Pope Francis on This “Time of Great Uncertainty”

Pope in White

Catholic journalist Austen Ivereigh recently talked with Pope Francis about the coronavirus.  Commonweal is running the interview.  Here is a taste:

In my second question, I referred to a nineteenth-century novel very dear to Pope Francis which he has mentioned recently: Alessandro Manzoni’s I promessi sposi (The Betrothed). The novel’s drama centers on the Milan plague of 1630. There are various priestly characters: the cowardly curé Don Abbondio, the holy cardinal archbishop Borromeo, and the Capuchin friars who serve the lazzaretto, a kind of field hospital where the infected are rigorously separated from the healthy. In the light of the novel, how did Pope Francis see the mission of the church in the context of COVID-19?

Pope Francis: Cardinal Federigo [Borromeo] really is a hero of the Milan plague. Yet in one of the chapters he goes to greet a village but with the window of his carriage closed to protect himself. This did not go down well with the people. The people of God need their pastor to be close to them, not to overprotect himself. The people of God need their pastors to be self-sacrificing, like the Capuchins, who stayed close.

The creativity of the Christian needs to show forth in opening up new horizons, opening windows, opening transcendence toward God and toward people, and in creating new ways of being at home. It’s not easy to be confined to your house. What comes to my mind is a verse from the Aeneid in the midst of defeat: the counsel is not to give up, but save yourself for better times, for in those times remembering what has happened will help us. Take care of yourselves for a future that will come. And remembering in that future what has happened will do you good.

Take care of the now, for the sake of tomorrow. Always creatively, with a simple creativity, capable of inventing something new each day. Inside the home that’s not hard to discover, but don’t run away, don’t take refuge in escapism, which in this time is of no use to you.

I was curious to know if the pope saw the crisis and the economic devastation it is wreaking as a chance for an ecological conversion, for reassessing priorities and lifestyles. I asked him concretely whether it was possible that we might see in the future an economy that—to use his words—was more “human” and less “liquid.”

Pope Francis: There is an expression in Spanish: “God always forgives, we forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives.” We did not respond to the partial catastrophes. Who now speaks of the fires in Australia, or remembers that eighteen months ago a boat could cross the North Pole because the glaciers had all melted? Who speaks now of the floods? I don’t know if these are the revenge of nature, but they are certainly nature’s responses.

We have a selective memory. I want to dwell on this point. I was amazed at the seventieth-anniversary commemoration of the Normandy landings, which was attended by people at the highest levels of culture and politics. It was one big celebration. It’s true that it marked the beginning of the end of dictatorship, but no one seemed to recall the 10,000 boys who remained on that beach.

When I went to Redipuglia for the centenary of the First World War, I saw a lovely monument and names on a stone, but that was it. I cried, thinking of Benedict XV’s phrase inutile strage (“senseless massacre”), and the same happened to me at Anzio on All Souls’ Day, thinking of all the North American soldiers buried there, each of whom had a family, and how any of them might have been me.

At this time in Europe when we are beginning to hear populist speeches and witness political decisions of this selective kind it’s all too easy to remember Hitler’s speeches in 1933, which were not so different from some of the speeches of a few European politicians now.

What comes to mind is another verse of Virgil’s: [forsan et haec olim] meminisse iuvabit[“Perhaps one day it will be good to remember these things too.”] We need to recover our memory because memory will come to our aid. This is not humanity’s first plague; the others have become mere anecdotes. We need to remember our roots, our tradition which is packed full of memories. In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the First Week, as well as the “Contemplation to Attain Love” in the Fourth Week, are completely taken up with remembering. It’s a conversion through remembrance.

This crisis is affecting us all, rich and poor alike, and putting a spotlight on hypocrisy. I am worried by the hypocrisy of certain political personalities who speak of facing up to the crisis, of the problem of hunger in the world, but who in the meantime manufacture weapons. This is a time to be converted from this kind of functional hypocrisy. It’s a time for integrity. Either we are coherent with our beliefs or we lose everything.

You ask me about conversion. Every crisis contains both danger and opportunity: the opportunity to move out from the danger. Today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption (Laudato si’, 191) and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world. We need to reconnect with our real surroundings. This is the opportunity for conversion.

Yes, I see early signs of an economy that is less liquid, more human. But let us not lose our memory once all this is past, let us not file it away and go back to where we were. This is the time to take the decisive step, to move from using and misusing nature to contemplating it. We have lost the contemplative dimension; we have to get it back at this time.

And speaking of contemplation, I’d like to dwell on one point. This is the moment to see the poor. Jesus says we will have the poor with us always, and it’s true. They are a reality we cannot deny. But the poor are hidden, because poverty is bashful. In Rome recently, in the midst of the quarantine, a policeman said to a man: “You can’t be on the street, go home.” The response was: “I have no home. I live in the street.” To discover such a large number of people who are on the margins…. And we don’t see them, because poverty is bashful. They are there but we don’t see them: they have become part of the landscape; they are things.

St. Teresa of Calcutta saw them, and had the courage to embark on a journey of conversion. To “see” the poor means to restore their humanity. They are not things, not garbage; they are people. We can’t settle for a welfare policy such as we have for rescued animals. We often treat the poor like rescued animals. We can’t settle for a partial welfare policy.

I’m going to dare to offer some advice. This is the time to go to the underground. I’m thinking of Dostoyevsky’s short novel, Notes from the Underground. The employees of that prison hospital had become so inured they treated their poor prisoners like things. And seeing the way they treated one who had just died, the one on the bed alongside tells them: “Enough! He too had a mother!” We need to tell ourselves this often: that poor person had a mother who raised him lovingly. Later in life we don’t know what happened. But it helps to think of that love he once received through his mother’s hope.

We disempower the poor. We don’t give them the right to dream of their mothers. They don’t know what affection is; many live on drugs. And to see them can help us to discover the piety, the pietas, which points toward God and toward our neighbor.

Go down into the underground, and pass from the hyper-virtual, fleshless world to the suffering flesh of the poor. This is the conversion we have to undergo. And if we don’t start there, there will be no conversion.

I’m thinking at this time of the saints who live next door. They are heroes: doctors, volunteers, religious sisters, priests, shop workers—all performing their duty so that society can continue functioning. How many doctors and nurses have died! How many religious sisters have died! All serving…. What comes to my mind is something said by the tailor, in my view one of the characters with greatest integrity in The Betrothed. He says: “The Lord does not leave his miracles half-finished.” If we become aware of this miracle of the next-door saints, if we can follow their tracks, the miracle will end well, for the good of all. God doesn’t leave things halfway. We are the ones who do that.

What we are living now is a place of metanoia (conversion), and we have the chance to begin. So let’s not let it slip from us, and let’s move ahead.

Read the entire interview here.

Pope Francis to Open Records of Pope Pius XII’s Papacy

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The records of Pope Pius XII will be open to scholars next March. If you want to know why this is important check out David Kertzer‘s piece at The Atlantic: “The Secrets That Might Be Hiding in the Vatican’s Archives.”  Here is a taste:

On Monday, 80 years after Pius XII’s election to the papacy, Pope Francis announced that the archives of the controversial wartime pontiff would be opened to scholars next March. The decision follows more than half a century of pressure. Pius XII—a hero of Catholic conservatives, who eagerly await his canonization as a saint, while denounced by his detractors for failing to condemn the Nazis’ genocidal campaign against Europe’s Jews—might well be the most controversial pope in Church history.

Less noticed in initial accounts of the announcement is the fact that Francis’s opening of the Pius XII archives makes available not only the 17 million pages of documents in the central Vatican archives, but many other materials in other Church archives. Not least of these are the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition) and the central archives of the Jesuit order. They, too, are likely to have much that is new to tell us.

Read the rest here.

Pope to Trump: If You’re Really Pro-Life You Won’t End DACA

Trump and Pope

Here is a taste of Nicole Winfield’s reporting at Religion News Service:

BOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis is urging President Donald Trump to rethink his decision to end a program protecting young immigrants from deportation, saying anyone who calls himself “pro-life” should keep families together.

“If he is a good pro-life believer he must understand that family is the cradle of life and one must defend its unity,” Francis said during an in-flight press conference en route home from Colombia.

Francis said he hadn’t read up on Trump’s decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Children Program, which allows some immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay. About 800,000 people are affected by Trump’s decision to give Congress six months to end their limbo status.

But he said in general, removing children from families “isn’t something that bears fruit for either the youngsters or their families.”

“I hope they rethink it a bit,” he said. “Because I heard the U.S. president speak: He presents himself as a person who is pro-life.”

Read the rest here.

Nice work, Francis.

 

Court Evangelicals Want To Meet With Pope Francis

Pope

This morning Elizabeth Dias is reporting that Johnnie Moore, an “unofficial spokesperson” of the court evangelicals, wants to have a meeting with Pope Francis about the way they have been treated in Antonio Spadaro’s and Marcelo Figueroa’s recent piece at La Civilta Cattolica.  The article, which critically highlighted the Trump administration’s connection to Christian nationalism, the prosperity gospel, Catholic and evangelical “fundamentalism,” and the alt-Right, is said to have been read and approved by Francis.

Here is a taste of Dias’s piece:

The authors of the article accuse the groups of seeking a politically expedient alliance to promote a “nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state” and a “xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls.” One of the co-authors, Antonio Spadaro, the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica and a person who is close to Pope Francis, has said that the Vatican’s Secretariat of State read and approved the piece.

Johnnie Moore, an evangelical advisor to Trump and a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals, sent a letter to Pope Francis requesting the meeting on behalf of some U.S. evangelical leaders, including those close to the president. He sent the request to the Archdiocese of Washington and other intermediaries on Aug. 3.

“Rather than being offended, we have chosen to attempt to make peace,” Moore says. “We would be willing to get on a plane tomorrow to Rome to meet with whoever, whenever to create a space for dialogue instead of conflict.”

Moore acts as an unofficial spokesperson for Trump’s circle of evangelical advisors. The group includes Trump’s longtime spiritual advisor, Florida televangelist Paula White; Baptist pastor Jack Graham; president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference Samuel Rodriguez Jr.; president of the American Association of Christian Counselors Tim Clinton; and past president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ronnie Floyd.

None were specifically named in the La Civiltà Cattolica article, which argued in broad strokes that fundamentalist evangelical and Catholic factions have united over time. The piece did call out White House strategist Steve Bannon and the social conservative group the Council for National Policy. The White House, Moore says, was not involved in his decision to reach out to the Vatican. The Archdiocese of Washington declined to comment about the letter.

I have already done a few posts about this piece here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  The Spadaro and Figueroa article has its historical problems and leaves one with the wrong view that all evangelicals are the same, but it is correct in its central message.

Let’s see what materializes with this proposed meeting between Pope Francis and the court evangelicals.

In the meantime, I am curious about who Johnnie Moore is representing here.  According to one biography, Moore is a “33-year-old author, speaker, media personality, communications executive and humanitarian who has been called one of the ‘world’s most influential young leaders’ and ‘a modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer.'”  (Apparently he does not attend my evangelical church.  Yesterday’s sermon was on humility).  Has he been hired by the court evangelicals?  Are the court evangelicals now organized to such an extent that they have hired a media consultant such as Moore to represent them?  Is he representing the National Association of Evangelicals, where he sits on the Board of Directors?  Does he represent Trump’s evangelical advisory board, a group that includes Michele Bachman, Mark Burns, Ken and Gloria Copeland, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Ralph Reed, and Paula White?

Was the Donald Trump-Pope Francis Meeting a “Detente” or an “Armistice?”

Pope

Over at Sight, Villanova University theology professor Massimo Faggioli argues it was more of a “detente” than an “armistice.”

Here is a taste:

No matter what their theological inclinations are, Donald Trump’s supporters should be happy with the modern reforms in the Vatican: until a few decades ago a pope would have never received in an audience a twice-divorced, thrice married head of state accompanied by a daughter who converted to Judaism.

Fortunately, this was not a problem for the Trump family accompanying the President in his state visit this week.

The only real news, in fact, was that the passage of the American president through the Vatican was fairly speedy and remarkably uneventful.

This does not mean that nothing of importance happened; on the contrary.

During Trump’s long international trip, the first of his turbulent presidency, the Vatican was the least challenging stop from a strictly diplomatic point of view: but compared to Saudi Arabia and Israel, the first two stops on this “inter-religious trip,” the Vatican was also the most “distant atmosphere,” politically speaking.

What divides Trump from Francis politically does not divide Trump from Saudi King Salman or from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The tension around the meeting with Francis, as opposed to the natural political affinity with the Saudis and Israeli leaders, is more evidence that the President’s pilgrimage was not really about religion.

Instead, it was about figuring out how to use religion for the political purposes of the administration (fighting terrorism, and fueling the anti-Iran complex) without fundamentally changing the narrative of this administration about religion. And that, despite his speech in Riyadh, still centers on an anti-Muslim worldview.

In some sense, the religion of Trumpism is the presidential bending to the politics of white evangelicalism, whose theological substance in America today is in danger of being reduced to the prosperity Gospel.

Read the rest here.

“It’s likely the longest thing he’ll have read since taking office”

Pope

Mark Silk argues that Pope Francis “dissed” the President of the United States this week. And it is a pretty good argument.

Here is a taste of his piece at Religion News Service:

He squeezed Trump into an early morning slot so as not to have to cancel or delay his regular Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square. And because of the gathering crowd, the President of the United States was ushered into the palace through a small side entrance used by Vatican employees.

It was hard not to think of Jesus’ famous mot about it being harder for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven.

Then, during the meet-and-greet with the Trump entourage, Francis proceeded to make a fat joke at the President’s expense, asking his wife, “What do you give him to eat, potica?” A sweet Slovenian nut roll of which the pope is himself fond, potica is inarguably fattening.

Of the subsequent private meeting that followed with only a translator present, the communiqué issued by the Vatican indicates that discussion between the two men ranged from areas of presumed agreement (“life,” freedom of religion and conscience, peace and protection of Christian communities in the Middle East) to those of presumed disagreement (health care and assistance to immigrants).

Of climate change and whether Trump will pull the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris Agreement the communiqué makes no mention. But we may infer that Francis was sending a message by giving Trump a copy of his climate change encyclical, Laudato Si’.

Trump said he’ll be reading it. One can hope. At 180 pages, it’s likely the longest thing he’ll have read since taking office.

Read the entire piece.

Not Since the Kennedys

Melania

It appears that Catholicism has returned to the White House.

One of the things we learned during the Trump visit to the Vatican is that Melania Trump is Catholic.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports at The Washington Post. 

A taste:

After she met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, first lady Melania Trump confirmed a little-known fact about her faith: She is Catholic. And she described the visit with the leader of the Catholic Church as “one I’ll never forget.”

While President Trump referenced his Presbyterian identity during the campaign, her faith did not come up. He and the first lady were married in 2005 in an Episcopal church in Palm Beach, Fla., where their son Barron Trump was later baptized.

The church’s rector performed a traditional Episcopal wedding service, according to the Palm Beach Daily News. “The bride walked down the aisle carrying only an ancient rosary, not to Lohengrin or Wagner, but to a vocalist singing Ave Maria in an exquisite soprano voice,” the local newspaper reported.

Her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham confirmed in an email that Melania Trump identifies as Catholic, but Grisham did not respond to questions about whether the first lady attends Mass regularly at a specific parish and whether the first family are current members of a church. The first lady, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006, grew up in what is today Slovenia, which has been heavily influenced by Catholicism.

During their visit to the Vatican on Wednesday, the pope blessed the first lady’s rosary beads, and the two had a lighthearted conversation about what she feeds her husband. She spent time in front of a statue of the Madonna at the Vatican’s children’s hospital and laid flowers at its feet.

Read the rest here.

 

Pope Francis Rips Business-Savvy Churches

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On the day before Donald Trump arrived at the Vatican, Pope Francis told worshipers attending morning mass that “the evil spirit prefers a peaceful church, without risks, a business church, an easy church, in the comfort of warmth, lukewarm.”

Here is a report on the Pope’s homily at Catholic News Service:

God’s prophets always were persecuted because they created a disturbance, much like those today who denounce worldliness in the church and get ostracized, the pope said May 23 during a morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

However, “a church without martyrs gives rise to distrust; a church that takes no risks gives rise to distrust; a church that is afraid to proclaim Jesus Christ and cast out demons, idols and the other lord that is money is not the church of Jesus,” he said.

The pope’s homily looked at how Paul and Silas ended up in prison in Philippi after Paul cast a spirit out of a slave girl, and he and Silas were accused of disturbing the city and promoting unlawful customs.

The day’s first reading (Acts 16:22-34), the pope said, shows that after helping the possessed girl Paul understood that even though people in the city accepted Christ’s doctrine, their hearts had not been converted “because everything stayed quiet” and easy. “It was not Christ’s church,” he said.

The history of salvation is filled with similar stories, he said. Whenever the people of God were undisturbed, didn’t take risks or started serving, “I won’t say idols, but worldliness,” then God would send a prophet to shake things up.

“In the church when someone denounces many kinds of worldliness, he or she is given the stink eye, ‘This won’t do, better they be removed,'” he said.

The pope said he could recall “many, many men and women, good consecrated (religious), not ideological,” in Argentina who spoke out about what the church of Jesus was meant to be, but who would be accused of being communist and sent away and persecuted.

And “think of Blessed (Oscar) Romero, no? What happened for speaking the truth,” the pope said, referring to the Salvadoran archbishop who spoke out against poverty, injustice and disappearances, and was assassinated by a suspected death squad. The one-year anniversary of his beatification was May 23.

There are many men and women like this in the history of the church, the pope said, “because the evil spirit prefers a peaceful church, without risks, a business church, an easy church, in the comfort of warmth, lukewarm.”

“When the church is lukewarm, tranquil, everything organized, there are no problems, look where the deals are,” he said, because the devil always comes in “through the pocket.”

The path of daily conversion requires going from an easy, carefree life and “a religiosity that looks too much at earnings” to the joyous proclamation of Jesus Christ as the Lord.

This is how the Lord, “with his martyrs,” moves the church forward and gives it “renewed youth,” he said.

When Did American Presidents Start Meeting With Popes?

Reagan and JP

In the wake of Donald Trump’s visit to the Vatican yesterday, David Mislin of Temple University correctly notes that it was once “unthinkable” for a United States President to meet with a Pope.  The history of American anti-Catholicism meant that POTUS-Pontiff visits were out of the question.

But things change.  Mislin describes these changes in his Real Clear Religion piece “Why It Was Once Unthinkable for the President to Be seen With the Pope.”

Here is a taste:

During the late 20th century, Catholic voters increasingly found common ground with Republicans on social issues such as abortion and a commitment to fighting communism abroad. What had once been the party of anti-Catholicism regularly won the support of nearly half of U.S. Catholics.

By 2016, the GOP had so expunged its anti-Catholic past that many candidates for the party’s nomination for president – including Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie – were Catholic.

Republican politicians also became willing to do what was once unthinkable: be seen with the pope. In 1959, Dwight Eisenhower became the first U.S. president to visit the Vatican. A representative of the party that had once campaigned on the fear that Catholic leaders would interfere in American politics had gone to Rome to meet the pope. Eisenhower set a lasting precedent. Every Republican president since has made the same trip.

As the 2016 campaign progressed, Donald Trump avoided igniting additional feuds with Francis. Although analysts believed that the candidate had a “Catholic problem,” Trump did quite well with Catholic voters on Election Day. He not only won white Catholics, but he increased the GOP’s share of Catholic voters over 2008 and 2012. Despite his sharp rhetoric on immigration, Trump also won a larger share of Hispanic Catholic voters than the GOP did in those years.

The meeting at the Vatican might well allow Trump an opportunity to put any lingering suspicion of anti-Catholicism to rest and cast himself as the heir of McKinley and Roosevelt’s views on Catholicism. As he departed for Belgium, the president tweeted, “Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis.” That’s a far cry from Trump’s past tweets about the pope.

Read the entire piece here.

Mislin also visited the Author’s Corner last year to discuss his book Saving Faith: Making Religious Pluralism an American Value at the Dawn of a Secular Age.

Pope Francis Gives a TED Talk

Pope Francis’s 17-minute videotaped talk was shown today at the international TED conference.  Read all about it in Colby Itkowitz’s article at The Washington Post.

Here is a taste of Itkowitz’s article:

Pope Francis used a world forum dedicated to promoting cutting-edge ideas to spread his own revolutionary message: “We all need each other.”

“When there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution,” the world’s most powerful religious leader told the room of scientists, academics, tech innovators, investors and cultural elites in a surprise videotaped message at the international TED conference Tuesday evening.

Keeping with the intent of the week-long conference to share strategies to make the world better, Francis’s contribution to that conversation was to urge the people gathered here to use their influence and power to care for others.

“How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion,” he said to applause. “How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.”

When Francis appeared on screen, the room erupted in applause, and one woman exclaimed, “No way.” Though he wasn’t standing center stage in front of TED’s signature red blocks letters, but rather seated at a desk at the Vatican, his speech had all the hallmarks of a TED Talk. His began with a personal narrative and wove in big ideas around hope, inclusion and starting a “revolution of tenderness.”

Read the rest here.

 

The Anti-Christ in New Hampshire

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If you have been following the GOP presidential race, you know that New Hampshire has fewer evangelicals than Iowa or South Carolina. But though evangelicals do not make a large swath of the population in the Granite State, it does have its fair share of born-again Christians.  One of them is apparently Susan DeLumus, a member of the state legislature. DeLumas is supporting Donald Trump.  She obviously has no problem with Trump’s recent squabble with Pope Francis because, after all, the Pope is the anti-Christ.

Here is a taste of an article on DeLumas:

In response to her own Facebook post of three snippets of scripture from the Geneva Bible, Rep. Susan DeLemus (R) wrote: “The Pope is the anti-Christ. [sic] Do your research.” In another response, DeLemus said “I’m not sure who the Pope truly has in his heart.”

She told Politico that she was generally referring to the papacy, rather than Pope Francis in particular.

“I was actually referencing the papacy. And what I wrote after that ‘do your research,’ if you read the Geneva Bible, which is the Bible I use when we study, the commentary is – actually by the founders of the United States actually, the Protestant Church – their commentary references the papacy as the anti-Christ,” DeLemus said.

DeLumus is correct about the Geneva Bible.  Here is a taste of the notes on Revelation 13:12 that appeared in the 1560 edition:

13:12 17 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein 18 to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. 

(17) The history of the acts of this beast contains in sum three things, hypocrisy, the witness of miracles and tyranny: of which the first is noted in this verse, the second in the three verses following: the third in the sixteenth and seventeenth verses. His hypocrisy is most full of lies, by which he abuses both the former beast and the whole world: in that though he has by his cunning, as it were by line, made of the former beast a most miserable skeleton or anatomy, usurped all his authority to himself and most impudently exercises the same in the sight and view of him: yet he carries himself so as if he honoured him with most high honour, and did truly cause him to be reverenced by all men. 

(18) For to this beast of Rome, which of civil Empire is made an ecclesiastical hierarchy, are given divine honours, and divine authority so far, as he is believed to be above the scriptures, which the gloss upon the Decretals declares by this devilish verse. “Articulos solvit, synodumque facit generalem” That is, “He changes the Articles of faith, and gives authority to general Councils.”
Which is spoken of the papal power. So the beast is by birth, foundation, feat, and finally substance, one: only the Pope has altered the form and manner of it, being himself the head both of that tyrannical empire, and also of the false prophets: for the empire has he taken to himself, and to it added this cunning device. Now these words, “whose deadly wound was cured” are put here for distinction sake, as also sometimes afterwards: that even at that time the godly readers of this prophecy might by this sign be brought to see the thing as present: as if it were said, that they might adore this very empire that now is, whose head we have seen in our own memory to have been cut off, and to be cured again.

A Scholar of American Catholicism Responds to Jerry Falwell’s Remarks About the Pope

Senator Bernie Sanders Speaks At Liberty University Convocation

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, has endorsed Donald Trump. And now Falwell Jr. is defending Trump against remarks made by Pope Francis that the New York businessman and GOP presidential candidate is not a Christian because of his views on immigration.

Here is a taste of a piece at Newsmax:

Further, said Falwell, “I think the Pope is mistaken. I think John F. Kennedy would be rolling over in his grave right now if he could hear what the Pope was saying, because that’s a man who fought to be president against lots of prejudice, because many Protestants in this country did not want to elect a Catholic president, and he broke down those barriers.”

Jesus said to “render under Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” Falwell continued. “And that means to choose the best president. Here’s the Pope saying we have to choose the leaders — sounds like he’s saying this — that share his faith. Or share the Christian faith.”

Julia Byrne, the Monsignor Thomas J. Hartman Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, responded to the Pope-Trump-Falwell controversy at her Facebook page.

Here is what she wrote:

• A lot of Roman Catholics support Trump, and will continue to support him here. (I have to  get numbers, and the class breakout.) Stephen Prothero has been saying that Trump is if nothing else a masterful politician, and I am starting to agree.

• Among many many white US Roman Catholics–all classes–and this is part of the legacy of JFK’s legitimizing and mainstreaming–Catholic is currently a word that means 1) my family/community connections optionally including religious practice; 2) valorization of white-ethnic identity including historic formation alongside the Roman church, life-events sanctioned by it, and identifying Catholic material culture like saints and crucifixes; and/or 3) “normal American,” i.e. Christian Smith’s “moral therapeutic deism,” not anything specifically theologically Catholic.

• This “normal American” way of using the word Catholic is also how many many white Protestants use the word Christian. Which since JFK has led, as we know, to previously unthinkable levels of collaboration between Protestants and Roman Catholics on issues of policing what normal in America means.

• As a scholar of religion, none of this is “not religion,” “not Christian,” or “not Catholic” to me. People are whatever they say they are. So I guess I … agree with Donald Trump?!

• But I do witness what Pope Francis said, and what many other Christians including Catholics try to say, as their identifying words change public meaning in directions they don’t like. Which is basically, we wish Christian including Catholic meant something else.

• But a lot of what they wish is exhorting a past that never existed, nostalgia for when everyone only ever used the words to reflect a reality of robust specific knowledge, sincere religious practice, and accountability to traditions that called you beyond your own self. Which was, for the vast majority of Christians including Catholics, never.

• Still, there is a difference between past times, when US Roman Catholics and Protestants defined themselves in opposition to each other, and now, when many alliances have erased differences, while a Roman pope trades on general Christian goodwill toward him to pronounce on the Christianity of a Presbyterian presidential candidate who then claims to be a better defender of the Vatican than the pope, and prominent Protestant Republican Falwell uses Catholic Democrat icon President Kennedy to chastise the pope.

And a bunch of RCs will agree with Falwell.

What happened in the US Roman church between then and now?

Conservative Catholics and Pope Francis

There is an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times about the way conservative Catholics–many of whom loved John Paul II and Benedict XVI–feel “abandoned and deeply unsettled” by Francis.  Here is a taste:

In the eight months since he became pope, Francis has won affection worldwide for his humble mien and common touch. His approval numbers are skyrocketing. Even atheists are applauding.
But not everyone is so enchanted. Some Catholics in the church’s conservative wing in the United States say Francis has left them feeling abandoned and deeply unsettled. On the Internet and in conversations among themselves, they despair that after 35 years in which the previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, drew clear boundaries between right and wrong, Francis is muddying Catholic doctrine to appeal to the broadest possible audience.
They were particularly alarmed when he told a prominent Italian atheist in an interview published in October, and translated into English, that “everyone has his own idea of good and evil” and that everyone should “follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them” — a remark that many conservatives interpreted as appearing to condone relativism. He called proselytizing “solemn nonsense.”
They were shocked when they saw that Francis said in the interview that “the most serious of the evils” today are “youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.” It compounded the chagrin after he said in an earlier interview that he had intentionally “not spoken much” about abortion, same-sex marriage or contraception because the church could not be “obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines.” 
Steve Skojec, the vice president of a real estate firm in Virginia and a blogger who has written for several conservative Catholic websites, wrote of Francis’ statements: “Are they explicitly heretical? No. Are they dangerously close? Absolutely. What kind of a Christian tells an atheist he has no intention to convert him? That alone should disturb Catholics everywhere.”

I have been trying to make sense of this conservative backlash ever since Francis became Pope.  A few weeks ago I was at a Jesuit university for an ecumenical gathering of church-related educators.  During the conference I tried to ask as many Catholics in attendance as possible if they really thought Francis had departed from the theological teachings of the Church or his immediate predecessors.

It seems to me that Francis is different than John Paul and Benedict in his rhetoric, but is not that different in terms of doctrine.  (Although the idea that a Catholic is not called upon to convince an atheist of the truth of Christianity does seem a bit odd).  As this article points out, Francis has not budged on gay marriage, gay sex, abortion, etc…. He just does not talk about them as much as his predecessors.  Instead he talks about issues of social justice and civility.

I would love to have some of my Catholic readers chime in.  Is Francis changing Catholicism or is he merely emphasizing the dimensions of Catholic social teaching that the previous popes did not emphasize?

More on Evangelicals and Pope Francis

Christianity Today has recently published three articles on the reaction of evangelicals to the election of Pope Francis. 

The first is an article on the way evangelicals in Argentina have responded to Francis.  Some of them describe the selection of Francis as an “answer to our prayers.”

The second article is an interview with international evangelist Luis Palau, a personal friend of Pope Francis.  Here is a taste:

Do you have any personal stories or memories of him that really exemplify his relationship with evangelicals? 
One day I said to him, ‘You seem to love the Bible a lot,’ and he said, ‘You know, my financial manager [for the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires] … is an evangelical Christian.’ I said, ‘Why would that be?’ And he said, ‘Well, I can trust him, and we spend hours reading the Bible and praying and drinking maté [an Argentine green tea].’ People do that with their friends, share and pass the mate, and every day when he was in town, which was often, after lunch he and his financial manager would sit together, read the Bible, pray, and drink maté. To me, he was making a point [about his relationship with evangelicals] by telling me that: trust and friendship.
The third article surveys American evangelical leaders, including Leith Anderson, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.  Everyone loves him, but only Carl Trueman is willing to say that theological differences still remain.

Kathy Cummings: Can Pope Francis Bridge the Gap Between America and Rome?

Kathy Sprows Cummings, the Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, is on fire!  If you have been following the blog, you know that she recently appeared with Brian Williams on NBC News.  Now today she has a piece at CNN titled “Can Pope Bridge Gape Between America and Rome.”  Kathy reminds us that Francis is “an American pope.”  Here is a taste:

Bergoglio’s style may signify an even more meaningful departure from longstanding tradition. By now, everyone knows that the Archbishop of Buenos Aires eschewed many of the privileges that come with being a prince of the Church. And if the first day of his pontificate are any guide, he plans to continue doing so, at least to the extent it is possible. My Facebook feed yesterday was full of gleeful pictures and posts: Pope Francis rode the bus with the cardinals! He refused the papal limo on his trip to Santa Maria Maggiore! He paid his own hotel bill! At a time when clerical privilege is widely viewed as, at best, a vestige of a spirituality that no longer holds, and, at worst, justification for sheltering criminals, any sign of resistance to it at the Vatican will be most welcome.

Catholics in the United States have always grappled with the tension that comes from living in a culture that adapts readily and rapidly, and being faithful to a church that changes only slowly and with great caution. The chasm between Rome and America may seem especially wide at this historical juncture, and how effective Papa Francesco will be in bridging it remains to be seen. What is certain is that the tone of the first 24 hours of the new pope would have been markedly less optimistic had a Vatican insider stepped out on that balcony.

Rumor has it that she also has a forthcoming piece that will appear soon in The New York Daily News.  Stay tuned.

Nice work, Kathy.